Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Power Rankings: Preseason: 9. This week: 3
Where they stand: The Vikings (7-1) emerge from their bye with a commanding three-game division lead and a comforting stretch of three consecutive games at home. Quarterback Brett Favre is the NFL’s second highest-rated passer (106.0) and tailback Adrian Peterson is tied for third among league runners with 789 yards. Defensively, the Vikings are giving up more yards (332 per game) than they have in recent years, but they lead the league in sacks and their special teams are giving them the best average field position in the league.
Disappointments: The run defense has slipped a bit after leading the NFL in each of the past three seasons. In Minnesota, however, “slip” is a relative term. The Vikings are still holding teams to 94.8 rushing yards per game, good for No. 8 in the NFL. But it’s been interesting to see the Vikings ration the playing time of 37-year-old nose tackle Pat Williams. Safety Tyrell Johnson has been mostly invisible after replacing the departed Darren Sharper in the starting lineup. His tackling is less sure than advertised and he isn’t much of a factor in the passing game.
Surprises: Favre will one day make the Hall of Fame, but few people thought he could skip training camp and perform at this level. He’s completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and has thrown only three interceptions in eight games. (Favre’s career-low for a season is 13 interceptions.) Rookie receiver Percy Harvin was a celebrated high draft pick, but his impact has exceeded expectations -- especially as a kick returner. His 30.7-yard average leads the NFL. The Vikings don’t appear to have missed a beat after replacing two starters on their offensive line. Center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt have settled in nicely.
Outlook: The next month is set up for the Vikings to clinch the NFC North. Consecutive home games against Detroit (1-7) and Seattle (3-5) should put them at 9-1 entering a Nov. 29 matchup with Chicago at the Metrodome. If they win that game to go 10-1, the Vikings would be at least four games ahead of the Bears with five left to play. (We’re all but counting out the Packers in this scenario because they’ve already lost twice to Minnesota). Unless they hit a dramatic roadblock, the Vikings will compete with New Orleans for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.